The Orangutan Project

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Last Saturday night, I read this story by Lika Frenkel on her Facebook page:

Near my house, just off Nevsky, two drunken Russian FC Zenit fans assaulted an Uzbek worker repairing the porch. They were giving him a ferocious beating, but when I cried for help, a a Russian dude popped up and yelled, “Young lady, those are our own Russian lads. They’re doing the right thing!” Thank God, another [Uzbek] worker came running and fought out his countryman’s attackers. I called the police. The Russians dashed off down Nevsky. Only a skateboarder reacted to my heart-rending cries of “Stop them! They beat up a man!” But it was too late: the fascists got away. The police went looking for them. I returned home and brought the Uzbeks clean towels. The young man’s head was badly injured. The other man turned out to be his brother. He said to me, “You think this is the first time? My brother is a doctor himself. He just arrived [in Russia]. I’m used to it. I would have given them what they had coming, only there are cameras everywhere here, and I don’t want to draw attention to myself.

Just like my fierce friend Lika Frenkel, Al Jazeera’s doco about former Perth zookeeper Leif Cocks and his Orangutan Project, below, will restore your faith not in humanity per se but in the fact that our planet still occasionally produces actual human beings, people capable of seeing and actively defending the humanity in Tajiks and Uzbeks (as in Lika’s case) and personhood in endangered and captive orangutans (as in Leif Cocks’s case).

If you are wondering how I make such absurd thematic leaps, it’s simple. After reading Lika’s late-night story, I got into bed and listened to this interview with Leif Cocks on ABC Radio National before drifting off to sleep.

Needless to say, a double dose of militant empathetic humanity like that made me sleep like a baby all through the night. All is not right with the world, to be sure, but there are heroes in our midst like Lika Frenkel and Leif Cocks. We need to identify them, celebrate them, and, most of all, emulate them.

Story translated by the Russian Reader. Image, above, courtesy of the Orangutan Project.

Renowned Tajik Theater Director Barzu Abdurazzokov Expelled from Russia

Barzu Abdurazzokov
Barzu Abdurazzokov

On His Way to Meetings in Russia, Director Expelled from Country
Radio Ozodi
April 13, 2016

Seeing stamps from Ukraine, Turkey, and Georgia in the passport of famous Tajik director Barzu Abdurazzokov, Russia border guards denied him entry to Moscow. 

Russian border guards did not allow the famous Tajik director Barzu Abdurazzokov entry to the country. After detaining and questioning him for an hour, he was expelled to Tajikistan.

Abdurazzokov had flown to Moscow with a company of Kyrgyz actors, and from Moscow he was scheduled to fly to Saint Petersburg, where he was staging a production of Ballad of a Mankurt at Meetings in Russia, an international theater festival of CIS and Baltic countries.

The famous theater director told Radio Ozodia in an interview on April 13 that the actors of the Chingiz Aitmatov State National Russian Drama Theater were judged the best at the festival and won the Kirill Lavrov Prize, named in memory of the People’s Artist of the Soviet Union.

The play Ballad of a Mankurt is based on Chingiz Aitmatov’s novel The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years.  Abdurazzokov was the production’s director, script writer, and musical director.

The festival, which was held for the eighteenth time, also featured another production by the Tajik director, Classmates: Life Lessons.

Abdurazzokov said that over the past six years he had traveled to different countries with his passport and had encountered no problems, but Russian border guards took issue with his papers and expelled him.

​”We flew from Bishkek to Moscow, whence we were supposed to fly to Saint Petersburg. When we arrived in Moscow, the Russian border guards examined my passport, in which there were numerous stamps from Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia, and Iran, for a long while. An FSB officer came up, took my passport, and made a photocopy. I was told there were inaccuracies in the document and was detained. I wanted to call the Russian Ministry of Culture so they would know about the difficulties one encounters, but the border guards didn’t let me call,” said the director.

Abdurazzakov said he was held at Domodedovo Airport around an hour and then sent home to Tajikistan on the next flight from Moscow to Kulyab.

“On the day the festival opened, I was already in Dushanbe, and my company was performing there without me,” he said.

Abdurazzokov has already received a new passport and should leave the country in a few days to continue working. He believes his sudden arrival  Tajikistan was no coincidence. He had a ticket for an April 10 flight from Petersburg to Dushanbe, because he wanted to visit his mother immediately after the festival.

“Fate decided to speed up our meeting,” he said, laughing.

Honored Artist of Tajikistan Barzu Abdurazzokov was born in 1959 in Dushanbe. His father is the famous actor Habibullo Abdurazzokov;  his mother, the actress Fotima Gulomova. In 1980, he graduated from the directing  department at the Tajik Institute of Arts, and in 1987, from the directing department at Lunacharsky State Institute for Theatre Arts (GITIS) in Moscow.

In 2009, his production Madness: The Year 1993, staged at the Russian Dramatic Theater in Dushanbe, was banned by the country’s culture ministry.  Subsequently, Abdurazzokov was unable to get work in Tajikistan, but Bishkek was happy to have him. Since 2013, he has worked at the Aitmatov Theater, and for two years in a row he was awarded Kyrgyzstan’s best director award.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Radio Ozodi

Sergey Abashin: Movements and Migrants in Central Asia

Movements and Migrants in Central Asia*
Sergey Abashin
STAB (School of Art and Theory Bishkek)

1. Movements

Movements in Central Asia have become large-scale and permanent, involving all social groups, rich and poor, women and men, young and old. They move around their own countries and among countries. Some go for several weeks or months and come back, while others live far from their place of birth for years, only occasionally visiting their homelands. Still others leave forever, breaking all ties. Some travel in search of a new homeland, so to speak. Others go to make money, study or receive medical treatment. Still others go for fun and excitement.

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Immigrant road maintenance workers gaze at the newly completed second stage of the Mariinsky Theater. Kriukov Canal, Petrograd, March 15, 2013. Photo by the Russian Reader

All this movement has come as a surprise to experts and politicians. I still remember the debates in the Soviet Union in the 1980s as to why the people of Central Asia were reluctant to travel outside their region. Even then officials and academics in Moscow, observing the beginnings of the demographic decline in Russia itself, were planning to relocate people from borderlands with an excess labor force to the central regions of the then still-unified country. These plans failed, because few people wanted to leave their homes. Only organized and, in fact, involuntary labor recruitment and military labor brigades partly solved the increased need for labor power. The weak affinity that Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz felt for voluntary mobility was proclaimed, on their part, an inherent and incorrigible attachment to family, community, and the hot climate. However, all these explanations were put to shame only a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when millions of people from the titular Central Asian nations felt an irresistible urge to hit the road, leaving and, sometimes, literally abandoning their homes.

Let us try and make sense of these circumstances, to understand why movement in the region has suddenly become a vital life strategy among a considerable number of people. The answer only seems to be lying on the surface. Yes, of course, the collapse of the Soviet system has led to the dismantling of all previous social and economic policies, which kept the population in place through social programs and investment in sometimes loss-making manufacturing enterprises. An abrupt, almost catastrophic decline in living standards, often accompanied by political turmoil and increased feelings of uncertain life prospects, could not fail to provoke an outflow of those wanting to find new prosperity and new stability outside their former worlds. Unemployment and negligibly small wages and pensions have pushed people into new labor markets in countries where even small incomes, by local standards, are much higher than the incomes Central Asians can expect to earn at home.

The future also looks ambivalent, depending on the forecaster’s optimism and pessimism. Some argue that economic, social, and political degradation in Central Asia will continue, becoming chronic, and the movements, therefore, will not stop but might even become even more intense, prolonged, and irreversible. Others, however, argue that sooner or later the situation will improve, investments and jobs will emerge at home, incomes and quality of life will increase and, consequently, outward migration will gradually dwindle.

This approach to movement as a consequence of degradation simplifies, in my view, the picture of events, distorting our perspective by ignoring and failing to analyze many important causes, factors, processes, and attitudes. If we look more broadly at the context in which human mobility in Central Asia has been growing, the first thing we see is an increase in the scope, range, and frequency of movement throughout the entire post-Soviet space and the world as a whole. Second, we see the unconditional link between mobility and the current stage of capitalism, which is sometimes called globalization, sometimes postindustrialism, and sometimes postmodernism. Viewed from this perspective, the picture of Central Asia appears in a somewhat different light than as a mere reflection of the disastrous state of affairs in the region’s newly independent countries. Spatial flows are not only a compulsory means of survival but also an impetus for distributing and assembling people, capital, information, and skills in new social configurations. The latter have a logic and meanings that do not depend directly on the characteristics of a particular country but are subject to wider trends and patterns.

What additional meanings can be attributed to the movements of people in Central Asia aside from as a reaction to post-Soviet degradation?

I think the situation can be described in terms of the momentum of the connections and mutual dependencies between Central Asia and Russia (and other lands) that developed and strengthened over at least a century and a half of coexistence within a single state. Usually, this kind of relationship is characterized as imperial or, if observers want to emphasize a distinctly unequal exchange, colonial. It is believed that empires inevitably fall, to be replaced by liberated nations. In this simple teleological scheme, which now dominates post-Soviet ideologies, much is not entirely clear, but one of the most controversial questions that many postcolonial critics ask is whether empire has actually disappeared or has adopted new shapes in which nations—i.e., constructs actually generated by empire—perform the old functions of borderlands, still pumping resources into the former metropoles in return for patronage and oversight. If we accept this argument, and there are many grounds for doing so, the massive movement of people from Central Asia to Moscow, Petersburg, and other Russian regions appears to be a post-imperial situation in which the circulation of labor power, money, practices, ideas, and information continues, acquiring new tempos and vectors. This movement establishes a new division of labor between the former “heartlands” and “borderlands,” and their hierarchy and mutual need for each other, even if the rhetoric has been dominated by harsh rejection of the newcomers.

Another implication of the movement of people in Central Asia is also quite obvious, although it is little remarked and little analyzed. The large-scale mobility—a significant (if not the lion’s) share of which consists of rural residents going to work abroad—is tantamount to a rather classic proletarization of a still largely agrarian Central Asian society. Soviet modernization attempted in its own way to organize this process by gradually transforming the locals into an agricultural working class while preserving the private agricultural sector and the corresponding rural practices, attitudes, and outlook in the region as a kind of compensation for semi-forced labor. The collapse of the Soviet Union also entailed the collapse of this transformative model. Consequently, the standard version of capitalist development, involving the ruin of the peasants, their impoverishment and exodus to the cities, where they are transformed into ruthlessly exploited proletarians, was inevitable. In other words, what is perceived as degradation is, in fact, a shift in the socio-economic order, not a return to old ways of life, as it sometimes has seemed, but accession to a completely new stage or form of community.

Proletarization has not been subject to discussion because, in particular, its course and effects have been concealed in a strictly ethnic view of the movement. In the countries of origin, the departed are considered traitors, victims or breadwinners. In the host countries, they are considered threatening outsiders or, again, victims. The emphasis, often cultural and racial, on their departure or arrival is more important than the social essence of movement. However, as soon as we remove our ethnic glasses we сan easily identify the class character of mobility. Its specificity consists only in the fact that the system in which class interaction takes place is not limited to particular countries and even regions but is non-national in scale. This system includes, first of all, the post-Soviet space as the nearest and most comprehensible space, a space that has, as I have already said, a history of a common existence and unequal relations of domination and subjugation between heartlands and borderlands. But mobility has already gone beyond the scope of the post-Soviet, spreading into new spaces of global capitalism and incorporating itself into a truly global order.

The other significance of the movement in Central Asia I would like to discuss is the mastery and appropriation of global space, infrastructures, and communication and transportation technologies. Let me explain this with a very simple example. Once upon a time, at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Russian imperial officials built a railroad that linked Central Asia with Russia’s central regions. The railway was built in no small measure to transport troops in the event of local uprisings and conflicts with other world powers, as well as for resettling Russian peasants, who were to colonize the new imperial lands. The railroad was also built to export the region’s cotton to the Ivanovo textile mills and import grain back to Turkestan, where the arable land was to be busy growing cotton. However, whatever objectives Petersburg officials pursued by allocating funds for the railroad’s construction, the end result was new transport infrastructure that made it possible to move large quantities of people and goods quickly, a means that had been available to different groups of people in different historical periods, and could be used for purposes that the said officials could not even imagine. Consequently, a hundred years later, the railway has become one of the main means of transporting millions of people of Central Asia to Russia and all over the world. This shift of functions and tasks might be dubbed mastery of new technologies and appropriation of completely new mechanisms for interacting with space, mechanisms which themselves define the impetuses and trajectories of movement. If we add highways and air travel to the railroads, we find ourselves with a huge network of possibilities that people transform into an element of their everyday practices and plans. The ease with which one can reach the other end of the world in a short time and gain access to new goods itself compels people to travel.

Here I would add the mastery of technologies for obtaining information about the world and communicating at great distances. They help create and maintain images and networks of acquaintances, which are also included in processes of movement and ensure its stability, direction, and reversibility. In a broader sense, I would also include here not only phones, internet, cars, and planes but also knowledge of languages, mastery of global systems of food and clothing, of finding and gaining employment, and so on. The penetration and expansion of such technologies and infrastructures in Central Asia and training oneself in the habits of using them shapes the demand for mobility as a distinct need and, sometimes, as a pleasure.

Finally, I want to use the notion of the migration of peoples for interpreting current movements. Despite the risks of drawing analogies between quite different historical periods, I think it vital to point out the temporal depth, continuity, and cyclical nature of movements, on the one hand, and, on the other, the gradual tectonic shifts in the spread of cultures, languages, and even genetic characteristics, shifts that may not always be visible from the perspective of several decades. I think we must keep sight of this prospect, too, because it is here that new mixtures and hybridizations happen, new cultural types and preferences are constructed, and new communities and identities are shaped. Marriages between locals and newcomers, children of newcomers who are born and grow up in the new land and speak the local language, shifts (back and forth) in musical and culinary tastes that are suggested by the newcomers and turn into new fashions, etc., are the individual and ephemeral symptoms of such transformations. They coalesce to form global trends that become visible after some time and only at a remove from the chaos of the present. The non-obvious nature of this tectonic shift and the uncertainty of its impact do not mean, however, that we do not sense, sometimes as vague and irrational fears and anxieties, the inevitability of this process by which completely new cultural forms emerge and acquire their own force and logic.

2. Migrants

I deliberately did not use the terms migration and migrants in the first part of my text, although in their original sense they are synonyms of movement and people in movement. However, the primarily recent negative usage of the word migrant in Russia, the destination of most Central Asians, has caused me to regard it as a discrete category, which indicates the particular circumstances in which people in movement find themselves. We can easily notice that the word is used selectively in the public debate and generally does not cover all types of movement, for which additional features and criteria are introduced. Why and how do certain people in movement end up in the exceptional circumstances of migrants?

The paradox of the present age is that the more massive and rapid the movement of people has become, the more societies and countries have established legal, political, social, and cultural obstacles and rules, including in the realm of ideology and ideas, for regulating and directing mobility. Having become an important feature of (post)modernity, movement has not changed the social order, which has remained hierarchical and antagonistic. But movement imparts to these hierarchies and antagonisms another, migratory dimension, which has become an important element in the allocation of status, wealth, and opportunity. More precisely, there are many such dimensions, and I will try to spell them out, based on the classification of the causes of increased mobility that I have proposed above. In particular, I mentioned post-imperialism, capitalization and proletarization, the appropriation of global space, and the migration of peoples.

The most obvious is the post-imperial or post-colonial conjuncture. The former distinctions between heartlands and borderlands, which in the past had a tangible and geographically measurable value, have been preserved, having forfeited, however, their sense of spatiality. The parts of the formerly united empire, fused over many decades and centuries, continue to need each other, even after the collapse of the unified state, in terms of resources, finances, labor power, military assistance, technologies, and ideas to maintain their existence and legitimacy. As before, mutual dependence has its own imbalances, which after the Soviet Union’s demise have not only not decreased but also in many ways have even increased. In the past, common imperial Russian and Soviet citizenship certainly served as tools of colonization and Russification, but aside from subordination, they contributed other modernizing and emancipatory consequences and effects. As the residents of the modernized and emancipated regions have flocked to the heartlands, depriving them of a common citizenship and, generally, of a stable legal status has been the new strategy for dominating the borderlands and its inhabitants. Earlier educational and Kulturträger aspirations have finally yielded to cold calculation: utopianism has become an unnecessary expense.

The status and label of the illegal (nelegal) has replaced the former terms aboriginal (tuzemets) and ethnic (natsmen) as the new tool of colonization. Illegality, which in its various shapes accompanies the majority of immigrants from Central Asia throughout their journey to Russia and other countries, is simultaneously a means of overexploitation and replacing distance (which in the past separated the residents of the heartlands from the populace of the borderlands, generating informal relations of “senior” and “junior”) with a new means of distancing. While reproaching the arriving hordes for illegality, Russia does everything possible to maintain this gray zone, which is a prerequisite of postcolonial welfare and subjugation and brings only material and symbolic benefits. Of course, the possibility of becoming a citizen and occupying a top position in the new circumstances remains for the illegal immigrant, just as once upon a time the aboriginal and ethnic could become a tsarist general or a member of the Central Committee, but this career requires stupendous effort, the overcoming of numerous obstacles, and repeated demonstrations of loyalty.

The proletarization of rural dwellers is accomplished not just as a movement from countryside to city but also as a movement from one country to another. This generates not only the possibility of doubly exploiting migrants as workers and, at the same time, as disenfranchised foreigners, but also impedes the formation of a pronounced class identity and class resistance among the new proletarians. Moreover, self-recognition as a working class occurs neither in the country of origin nor the host country.

In Russia, where migrants work and generate surplus value, they are considered guest workers and slaves who are not an electoral force, allegedly hinder the development of the local economy, skew the labor market by working for low wages, and increase crime rates. That is, they generate lots of so-called problems and threats. Even local leftist parties are not willing to recognize them as their own constituency, whose rights and class mobilization should be their concern. In Central Asia itself, where the migrants return with the money they have earned, they do not perceive themselves and are not perceived by others as a proletariat. Rather, they function as a kind of middle class who have successfully completed a business deal somewhere abroad. At home, the guest workers carefully maintain and reproduce all the attributes of prestige characteristic of the rural rich, community members, and supporters of a “traditional” lifestyle, albeit in contrived form. This method of joining the capitalist world prevents immigrants from Central Asia from recognizing their interests as proletarians and fighting for them, which only aggravates their oppressed position in their new circumstances.

Here I want to clarify an important point. Movement itself is not only proletarian in its import. The people involved in it also include businessmen, who attempt to preserve and capitalize their savings abroad; urban educated youth, hoping to enter the cohort of white collar workers; and cultural producers and academics, who are looking for freedom of inspiration and recognition in other countries, and so on. But these groups of Central Asians are often overlooked amidst the public phobias, are not identified as guest workers, and even occupy quite high-status positions in the new society. However, many of them are also under constant threat of ending up living their lives according to a proletarian logic. Subjugation, which cannot be reduced merely to proletarization but has a wider context, assigns people to different categories, leaving them very little choice in determining their own legal, professional, and social trajectories, eventually pushing them into the niche of disenfranchised workers, from which it is difficult to extract themselves.

Another factor associated with access to the infrastructures and technologies of mobility also generates its own limitations and hierarchies. The latter include abilities, skills, and psychological capacities, as well as, I intend to emphasize, the availability of the necessary financial means and connections for implementing this access. An important condition is the availability and number of intermediaries between the individual and the means of mobility.

The hierarchy begins to take shape the moment the decision is made who is personally capable of setting out on the long, distant journey. This decision predetermines who will be the breadwinner, and who, the dependent; who, by taking on heightened risks, will receive more of the symbolic and moral bonuses, and how roles and statuses will be allocated in the future within the family and the community. Depending on the availability of funds and skills, the emigrant chooses between strategies of searching for happiness individually or, more often, of joining a network. Within the network, each person is assigned a certain place, and strict limitations are imposed on all manifestations of independence. The network mediates between the individual and technologies. It gives him or her money for their first steps. It protects and insures them. It explains where they should go and what they should do. The societal network, which guides the individual down the beaten path, provides guarantees and confirms the usual order of relations, and reproduces its own forms of domination and subjugation among elders and youngsters, men and women, pioneers and followers, wise guys and foot soldiers. The technologies and infrastructures of globalization are for many people, paradoxically, a means of reproducing and even reinforcing so-called traditional collective practices and beliefs.

I want to note also that networks, by defining what each of its members should do and how they should do it, exacerbate the stigmatization of these people as illegal immigrants and guest workers. When he or she joins a network, the individual immediately ends up in a social niche already freighted with a given set of obligations and rights, symbols and identities. The Central Asian whom an older relative or acquaintance puts on a plane, then transports to a place of work and so on, is doomed to be a migrant, as no other roads remain open to him or her.

And, finally, the migration of peoples. I have spoken about the fact that this process leads to the invention and cultivation of new hybrid cultural forms and types. And yet the fabrication and materialization of these forms and types happens via alignment with a hierarchy, through assignment to specific superior or inferior positions in social classifications, through application of a whole set of rules and techniques for recognition and exclusion. In particular, in these processes, references to culture, religion, and race, alone or in various combinations, are turned into a necessary attribute for identifying migrants as a discrete category of people in movement.

Migrants are persons necessarily endowed with the signs of aliens. Their physical appearance, faith and religious practices, and cultural habits must be alien. Central Asians with Caucasoid and Mongoloid features are termed “blacks” (chornye). The Central Asian cultures, which experienced a large-scale modernization with the Russian Empire and Soviet Union for nearly a century and a half, are described as almost archaic and “traditionalist.” Central Asian Islam, which has just been recreated after an atheistic era and bears the stamp of eclecticism and internal inconsistency, already figures as a potential, homogenous “threat” both to Christians and atheists. The discursive racialization, and cultural and religious stigmatization to which a significant number of people traveling between countries are exposed is a condition for entering the new situation of constant movement. New generalizing identities and derogatory nicknames legitimize, albeit negatively, the redistribution of space currently underway. At the same time, endowment of legal, professional or class status is made dependent on cultural and biological characteristics. Despite the apparent relativization of culture in movement, the essentialization of these characteristics has only been amplified and has moved from the level of individual countries and regions to the global level.

I want to conclude my short essay on movement and migrants in Central Asia not with a series of conclusions but with something like an inquiry. The new era has opened up many new opportunities for people, but at the same time it has generated new types of dependence and subjugation. How will these opportunities be used? Have we recognized all the risks? I think that when answering these questions we must choose a particular point of view that opens onto a wider temporal and spatial context, that does not focus on details, whatever feelings of pride or resentment they might cause, and that would not be attached to a particular ethnic loyalty and affiliation. Depending on how this works out or whether it works out at all, we can hope for the emergence of a new dialogue about the new era, a dialogue that for the time being we sorely lack.

* My research was conducted with support from a grant by the Russian Humanities Academic Fund (“Problems of Intercultural Interaction between Migrants from Central Asia and Russian Society,” No. 11-01-00045а).

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Sergey Abashin is British Petroleum Professor of Migration Studies at the European University in Saint Petersburg. His most recent book is Sovetskii kishlak: Mezhdu kolonializmom i modernizatsiei [The Soviet Central Asian village: between colonialism and modernization], Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015.

This essay was originally printed, in Russian, in STAB Almanac No. 1: Regain the Future, edited by Georgy Mamedov and Oksana Shatalova. Published by the School of Theory and Activism Bishkek (STAB) in 2014, the almanac can be accessed in full (in Russian) here. This is the first in a series of new posts dealing with Central Asia, Central Asians, and immigration. Translated by the Russian Reader

Brotherhood of Nations

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P.  Smukrovich, Brotherhood of Nations,  1927

Russian TV Explains Health Benefits Of Racism
Glenn Kates
December 17, 2014
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

You always want to avoid drinking with somebody during the holiday season. Maybe it’s that politically incorrect uncle of yours. Or maybe it’s a nagging in-law.

The well-known host of a health show on Russian state-run First Channel has another suggestion: shun those whom she calls “people of the Mongoloid race.” But it’s for their own protection, of course.

The segment, titled “whom not to drink with on New Year’s” begins with Yelena Malysheva, host of the program “Live Healthfully,” inviting an audience member up on stage.

A man named Shukrat, who identifies himself as an Uzbekistan native, is met with hearty laughter when he explains that he “wouldn’t want to drink with the police or the Federal Migration Service.”

Then Malysheva gets into the meat of her presentation, noting that Russians are “a white race, a Slavic one ” and “now we will talk about what race not to drink with on New Year’s.”

And just so there are no misunderstandings, she adds, “There is no discrimination here, just an understanding of the physiology that makes every race different.”

Shukrat then cuts in, noting that he “grew up in the Soviet Union, so I’m not a nationalist” and “can drink with black people and all people, to be honest.”

Malysheva reiterates that “when we talk about who not to drink with this New Year’s, we do not mean to cast scorn on anyone. We’re talking about the threat to their own health.”

She then turns to Dmitry Shubin, a “doctor” on her team and asks him to explain who not to drink with.

“In the interests of safety, one shouldn’t drink — no, not shouldn’t but mustn’t — drink with people who come from the Mongoloid race,” Shubin says, using a term to describe Asians that can be seen as derogatory. This group, he explains, includes Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, and others in the Russian Far North.

Perhaps worried there may be confusion, Malysheva, using her fingers to press her own eyes together, explains that these “Mongoloids” can be identified by their narrow eyes and round facial features.

Just in case it still isn’t clear, she exhibits a slideshow of Asian-looking faces to avoid when in the presence of alcohol.

Shubin then explains the reasoning: Asians have a “genetic defect” that prevents them from properly metabolizing alcohol.

To demonstrate, he gives Shukrat and Malysheva liver-shaped containers, which are each apparently filled with black liquid (they don’t actually show what’s in Maysheva’s container before the experiment). As they both pour alcohol into their respective livers, Shukrat’s remains black. Malysheva’s becomes clear.

“Mongoloid: people with narrow eyes and crescent-shaped faces — [for them] alcohol is toxic,” Malysheva says, pointing to the fake liver a perplexed-looking Shukrat is holding. “And so the first people you should never drink with on New Year’s are representatives of the Mongoloid race. It is bad for them”

Research has shown that some people of East Asian descent — about one-third according to one expert — have a gene that causes difficulty in breaking down alcohol that could lead to long-term health consequences.

But doctors don’t generally recommend that non-Asians take the matter into their own hands by excluding people of Asian ethnicity from social drinking.

In Russia itself, according to a recent study in The Lancet medical journal, a quarter of Russian men die before the age of 55 — a rate far higher than the rest of Europe. And one of the chief causes is excessive alcohol consumption.

_________

“WHETHER OR NOT YOU WANT TO, YOU HAVE TO GO”
December 12, 2014
adcmemorial.org

From Tajikistan to Russia: Vulnerability and abuse of migrant workers and their families

Paris, St Petersburg, 10 December The situation of Tajik migrants in Russia is deteriorating, said FIDH and ADC Memorial in a report released today. Increasingly restrictive migration laws are pushing migrants into irregular situations and increasing their vulnerability, while exploitation goes unchecked.

The dire economic situation in Tajikistan, where around 40% of the population of working age is unemployed, continues to push hundreds of thousands of men and women to leave for Russia every year. According to official statistics, in 2014 there were over a million Tajik citizens in Russia. The remittances sent back represent 47% of Tajikistan’s GDP, the highest percentage of any country worldwide. For most families, they are the main source of income. This trend looks set to continue.

Despite recent measures announced by the Tajik authorities, migrants remain highly vulnerable to abuse. As a result of increased restrictions on entry and stay in Russia, deportations have multiplied and tens of thousands of migrants have been subjected to re-entry bans. Migrant workers interviewed by FIDH and ADC Memorial reported extortion by Russian police and border guards, arbitrary arrests and police violence. Fuelled by xenophobic political discourse and media reports, vigilante attacks on migrants are on the rise. Those responsible for attacks benefit from almost complete impunity. The report also documents non-payment of wages, poor living conditions, and lack of access to medical treatment.

“The multiplication of legal restrictions, raids on migrants like Operation Migrant 2014, launched this November, and rising xenophobia are resulting in serious violations of migrants’ human rights. We are deeply concerned about recent acts of violence against migrants, on the part of the police and civilians, which have gone unpunished”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “In December, it became clear that Operation Migrant 2014 would be ongoing. Mass arrests and detention of migrants in Moscow and St. Petersburg continue.“

The report addresses the human rights impact of migration on women in particular. Hundreds of thousands of women are left behind in Tajikistan to bring up children, working in the fields and markets, and depending on their in-laws for support. Those whose husbands stop sending money or disappear completely can find themselves destitute. Over the past several years, there has also been a sharp increase in numbers of Tajik women migrating to seek work. It is estimated that today around 15% of migrants are women. Women migrants, especially those who leave the country alone, are seen as challenging traditional roles and often suffer stigmatisation from their families and communities in Tajikistan, while in Russia they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and violence.

In 2012, Tajikistan was examined by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The Committee raised particular concerns about corruption among border guards and some consular staff and the lack of effective complaint mechanisms for victims of abuse.

“Consular protection for Tajik migrants in difficulty in Russia remains inadequate and the Tajik Migration Service has not established an effective complaints procedure. Cases of exploitation by employers and intermediaries, including forced labour, are not properly investigated by the authorities of either country,” said Stefania Koulaeva, head of ADC Memorial.

Since 2011, FIDH and ADC Memorial have undertaken a series of joint investigations to document the situation of Tajik migrant workers in Russia and the violence, xenophobia and serious violations of economic and social rights they face there.

*****

Interview with Stephania Koulaeva, head of the Memorial Anti-Discrimination Centre, on the situation of migrants in Russia

At the end of October the Russian government launched a huge operation called Migrant 2014 to crack down on migrants in an irregular situation in Russia. FIDH and ADC Memorial reported 7,000 arrests during the operation. What happened to those migrants and their families? Where are they now?

When we first reported on the 7,000 arrests, Migrant 2014 had only just begun. According to official figures published by the Moscow police and Moscow department of the Federal Migration Service (FMS, by the end of the operation on 4 November, over 50,000 migrants had been arrested by the police. Almost 2,000 expulsions were conducted and hundreds of migrants were detained. Simultaneously, the FMS in Moscow carried out a wave of inspections that resulted in the expulsion of 1,500 people. Another 3,000 people were barred from re-entry. The total revenue from penalties imposed on these migrants was almost 50,000,000 rubles (approximately 1 million Euros.)

Repression of migrants in Moscow alone during the week-long operation resulted in more than 3,500 expulsions and tens of thousands of cases of administrative punishment.

As to the current whereabouts of the arrested migrants, we can assume that many of them had to leave the country, often with a ban on coming back for a number of years. Although others could continue their life and work in Russia, they have had to pay a high price for permission to do so.

What does this operation say about the Russian government’s approach to migration? How does the Russian migration policy impact other countries in the region?

The Russian government policy on migration is controversial. On the one hand, it has close ties to the main business structures that employ migrant workers, in such fields as construction, communal services, and sales. This system allows Russia to benefit from a cheap labour force without spending on social needs. On the other hand, the very people who profit from the hard work and low wages of migrants are the ones who organised the operations against them, and use xenophobic rhetoric in the government-controlled media in order to pander to nationalist sentiments of the population. Migrants have become scapegoats for the immense problems that Russia now faces on the political and economic level, despite the fact that the country cannot function without migrant work.

The Russian government plays a complicated strategic game in the region on migration issues. For example, Russia allows Tajik migrant workers to work in Russia in exchange for military and geopolitical support from Tajikistan. Tajikistan meanwhile benefits from the remittances that working migrants send back to their families.

What are the main problem faced by migrants in Russia?

Migrants in Russia face a multitude of problems, including widespread discrimination, the stigma of illegality, the risk of detention and deportation, and xenophobia, in particular towards migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. Those who are not formally employed face a prohibition on staying in Russia longer than three months, which, in practice, forces almost all children of migrants into illegal status.

Migrant workers receive lower wages for the very same work done by Russian nationals and suffer from the absence of social security in case of illness, injury or death.

Conditions of detention are another major problem. There is an absence of judicial control over the duration of detention of migrants accused of violating migration laws, which can last up to two years on purely administrative grounds.

These problems are compounded by the lack of support demonstrated by the migrants’ countries of origin. In some cases, such as in Uzbekistan, migrants even face repression from their government for working abroad.

Read the report From Tajikistan to Russia : Vulnerability and abuse of migrant workers and their families

Editor’s Note. I have lightly edited this article to make it more readable.

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Migrant workers are leaving Petersburg: soon there won’t be anyone to work in construction and communal services
Elena Rotkevich
December 17, 2014
Gorod 812

On January 1, new rules for migrant workers, allowing them to work almost anywhere without restrictions, will be introduced in Russia. The authorities hope this will increase the flow of cheap labor from the CIS. In fact, the opposite is happening.

The Russian Federal Migration Service, which initiated the new rules, has said they fundamentally change the approach to labor migration. As of January 1, 2015, quotas will be abolished on the numbers of migrant workers from the CIS and other visa-free countries who can be employed in Russia.

The need to obtain a work permit will also be abolished. Instead of this document, migrants will need to buy a license. Its price will be different in each region, as set by the local authorities. In Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, it will cost 3,000 rubles; in Moscow, 4,000 rubles. As of January 1, each legally employed migrant worker, except for those who still have valid, previously issued documents, must have this license, no matter where they work.

The abolition of quotas means that any number of migrant workers can be employed at any enterprise. When there were quotas, the number of migrant workers in each sector of municipal services and industry were strictly regulated. For example, in 2014, only 164,000 migrants could legally work in Petersburg within the quotas. [Although the actual number of migrants working in the city is undoubtedly much higher.]

As of 2015, this ceiling will not be limited in any way. It would seem that the city should be flooded with migrants, but it isn’t, and the reason is the economy.

“The quotas are abolished, but there won’t be more migrants. They are already leaving the city. If the exchange rate of the ruble does not grow, they will stop coming here altogether, because it is not worth it. Salaries paid in rubles are not increasing in value. For example, if a person working at a construction site used to get 25,000 rubles a month, and that was roughly equivalent to 750–800 dollars, now it is worth 400–450 dollars. That does not even cover the person’s expenses. It is easier to make money at home,” says Suratbek Abdurahimov, chair of Uzbegim, the Uzbek National Cultural Autonomy of Saint Petersburg.

According to him, it makes no difference to migrants whether they have to get a license or a work permit. It is expensive and troublesome all the same. There is, however, an obvious drawback: after the new rules are adopted, the official price of a license in Petersburg will increase from two to three thousand rubles. But the real price of the document cannot be predicted at all. Given the cost of medical certificates, insurance, and everything else, migrants now pay between twelve and fourteen thousand rubles for a license, while getting a work permit costs around twenty thousand rubles. Abdurahimov believes that under the new rules a license will also cost at least twenty thousand. It is cheaper to stay at home.

Mahmut Mamatmuminov, board chair of the Assistance Fund for Migrant Workers from Central Asia, agrees with him.

“Of course, soon it will make more sense economically to stay at home. First, because of the exchange rate. Second, because migrants have to take exams in Russian, history, and law. It is hard: even an educated person finds these tests confusing. I have heard that exam certificates are already selling on the black market. Also, the number of migrants is dropping because the Federal Migration Service in Petersburg has banned many people from entering the country for different violations. According to Federal Migrant Service statistics, more than a million migrants have been banned from entering Russia over the past year,” says Mamatmuminov.

The major sectors in Petersburg where guest workers are employed are construction, retail, street cleaning and housing maintenance, services, and transportation. According to experts, if migrant workers pull up stakes and fly home en masse, there will soon be no one to do this work in Petersburg.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014
Window on Eurasia: Massive Exodus of Migrant Workers from Russia Begins
Paul Goble

Staunton, December 20 – The collapse of the ruble and the test of Russian language knowledge they will soon be required to take are prompting gastarbeiters in the Russian Federation to leave in massive numbers, with the leader of the Federation of Migrants now predicting that more than a quarter of them will depart by early next year.

While some Russians may be glad to see them go, their departure will make it more difficult for the Russian economy to escape the looming recession. But even more seriously, their return to their homelands in such numbers will create problems there, given that none of those economies can easily absorb them.

The returning migrants are thus likely to become a source of additional instability in places that in many cases already are far from stable, and to the extent they are not absorbed into the economies, some of them may become recruits for radical Islamist groups that want to overthrow the existing order.

Mukhammed Amin, the head of the Federation of Migrants of Russia, told Newsru.com yesterday that “more than 25 percent” of the more than 10 million immigrant workers in Russia plan to return home or move to other countries in the coming months (newsru.com/russia/19dec2014/ishod.html).

He suggested that the main reasons for that are two: the collapse of the ruble exchange rate means they have less money to send home – most of their transfer payments have been in dollars – and concerns about the impact and cost of the test of Russian language knowledge they will be forced to take as of January 1.

Karomat Sharipov, the head of the Tajik Labor Migrants organization, confirmed that this is the case and said that many of his co-nations intend to leave Russia.  He added that because jobs at home are scarce, at least some of them might join the ranks of extremist groups as mercenaries in order to support their families.

Russia’s Federal Migration Service had already reported that with the decline in the value of the ruble, the size of transfer payments by gastarbeiters in Russia to their homelands had sharply fallen (newsru.com/finance/12dec2014/migrants.html). That too will harm the economies of countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Azerbaijan from which most migrants have come.

Some Russians are pleased by the departure of the gastarbeiters, either because they view such people as culturally alien or because they think that such foreigners are taking jobs that Russians should get. But Russian officials are more concerned by the possibility that those leaving will join radical Islamist groups or become part of “so-called ‘Jihad tourism.’”

That term refers to Muslims from one country who travel to another to take part in and make money from radical Islamist groups fighting elsewhere.  According to the Russian government, there are at least 1500 such people from CIS countries now fighting for the Islamic State; the departure of the gastarbeiters will likely boost that number further.

Russian officials fear that these people will not only destabilize neighboring countries but also in some cases return to push their causes within the borders of the Russian Federation, yet another frightening consequence of Vladimir Putin’s policies in Ukraine.

Image courtesy of liveauctioneers

Slaves of Moscow

On October 30, 2012, a group of civil society activists in Moscow freed twelve slaves from the Produkty grocery store, owned by a Kazakhstani couple, Zhansulu Istanbekova and her husband, Saken Muzdybayev. Nearly all of those released were women from the city of Shymkent in Kazakhstan, which is also Istanbekova’s hometown. Istanbekova had at various times invited them to Moscow to work in her store. Once there, they had been robbed of their passports and forced to work without pay for twenty hours a day. They were fed a slop made from rotten vegetables, and they were beaten and raped. Some of the freed women had arrived at the store recently, but others had worked as slaves there for as long as ten years. Many of them had given birth while in captivity. Istanbekova had disposed of these children at her discretion. She shipped some of them to Kazakhstan, later declaring them dead, while others had served her family from an early age.

This is the introduction to “Slaves of Moscow,” a graphic reportage by artist Victoria Lomasko now published in English translation in a new issue of Words without Borders on migrant labor. Read the rest of this hair-raising story here.

skazali